The 2016 season was one filled with adversity and growth for UCLA women’s tennis. The Bruins entered the season without four of six starters from last year and some players suffered from injuries even before the team’s first dual match.
Despite being young, injured and inexperienced, No. 27 UCLA (15-7) remained a strong competitor throughout the season. Even though the squad finished in the middle of the pack in conference play with a 6-3 record, the Bruins earned yet another NCAA Tournament berth for the program – UCLA has qualified for all 34 of the team-based competitions, dating back to 1982.
No. 4 Ohio State eliminated UCLA from the tournament 4-1 on Saturday afternoon – marking the first time since 1999 the Bruins failed to advance to the round of 16. Despite the early exit, the team’s short experience in the national competition showed some promising play for the coming years.
The team’s troubles this season revolved around doubles play. The Bruins owned sub-.500 records on courts two and three in doubles play. UCLA earned both doubles points in the tournament with help from the young dynamic duo of freshman Alaina Miller and sophomore Terri Fleming, who only lost two matches since first teaming up for doubles at the end of March.
The Bruins will say farewell to three seniors – Catherine Harrison, Kyle McPhillips and Laura Luca. Harrison and McPhillips have been key components to the program’s success during the past four years. The two leaders have combined for more than 100 singles victories in their careers and as a doubles pair, have boasted a high national ranking for the past two seasons.
This year’s underclassmen – four of six starters were either freshmen or sophomores – will now take the reins heading into next season. Jada Hart and Ena Shibahara, two of the nation’s top blue chip recruits, will also add depth to the young Bruin squad.
Although UCLA will lose its top two players, the team enters next season with more balance in the lineup. The gap between the success in singles on courts one, two and three compared to courts four, five and six will likely be less significant next year. This year, players on courts one, two and three combined for a 46-12 record, while players on the other three courts owned an overall 25-32 record.
UCLA will look to regain its status as a national competitor next year. It will be difficult for the Bruins to adjust to losing two four-year veterans, but two top recruits replace them and the experience gained by other players this season will add to what should be another dangerous women’s tennis team.